PICK OF THE WEEK
WRITTEN ON THE WIND (The Criterion Collection): Director Douglas Sirk’s penchant for elaborately produced, overheated melodrama reaches its zenith in this still-potent 1956 adaptation of Robert Wilder’s best-selling novel, reportedly inspired by the mysterious death of Winston-Salem tobacco heir Zachary “Smith” Reynolds in 1932.
Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson) and Kyle Hadley (Robert Stack) have been best friends since childhood. Mitch, who comes from a working-class background, is studious and hard-working. Kyle, the heir to a Texas oil fortune, is a hard-drinking playboy roustabout. Both are smitten with secretary Lucy Moore (Lauren Bacall), who opts for financial security by marrying Kyle, much to Mitch’s grief. But the marriage is welcomed by Kyle’s lusty sister Marylee (Dorothy Malone), who has long nursed an unrequited love for Mitch.
No good can come of this turbulent romantic quadrangle, and the veiled suggestions of homosexuality, impotence, and nymphomania add to the mounting intensity of this character-driven parable, further augmented by Russell Metty’s glossy cinematography and Frank Skinner’s effectively florid score. Hudson and Bacall are attractive, but Stack and Malone unquestionably have the judicial roles, with Stack earning an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor and Malone a surprise winner for Best Supporting Actress. (The title song also received a nomination.)
Robert Keith (the real-life father of Brian) suffers nobly as Kyle and Marylee’s ailing father, who watches helplessly as his children destroy themselves, with Grant Williams, Robert J. Wilke, Edward Platt (a decade away from Get Smart), John Larch, Maidie Norman, Roy Glenn, and William Schallert among the familiar faces who turn up in supporting roles.
The special-edition Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) includes the 2008 documentary Acting for Douglas Sirk, theatrical trailer, and more. ***½
THE ADDAMS FAMILY 2 (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Universal Pictures Home Entertainment): Charlize Theron, Oscar Isaac, Chloe Grace Moretz, Nick Kroll, Bette Midler, Snoop Dogg, and Conrad Vernon reprise their voice-over roles in this award-winning, PG-rated sequel to the hit 2019 animated feature based on the merrily morbid characters created by Charles Addams, again co-directed by Greg Tiernan and producer/story writer Vernon, available on DVD ($29.98 retail) and DVD/Blu-ray combo ($34.98 retail) , each replete with bonus features for Addams aficionados.
ALONE WITH YOU (Dark Star Pictures): In their feature debut, Emily Bennett and editor Justin Brooks wrote, produced, and co-directed this murky, award-winning psychological thriller – filmed during the pandemic and unmistakably symbolic – which offers Bennett a tour-de- force turn as a young woman consumed by paranoia as she awaits the return of her lover (Emily Myles) in their Brooklyn apartment. Echoes of Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) abound, there’s a mounting sense of confinement, and despite flaws this is an encouraging calling card for its makers. Genre icon Barbara Crampton enjoys a sharp cameo as Bennett’s mother, available on DVD ($24.99 retail), replete with bonus features including audio commentary, behind-the-scenes featurette, cast interviews, and more. **½
THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR (RLJE Films): Prior to making The Djinn (2021), David Charbonier and Justin Powell made their feature debuts as writers and co-directors of this 2020 shocker, starring Lonnie Chavis and Ezra Dewey as best friends who endure a grueling trauma when they are abducted on their way home from school and attempt to make a perilous escape, available on DVD ($27.97 retail) and Blu-ray ($28.97 retail), both with bonus features.
BREAKING BREAD (Cohen Media Group/Kino Lorber): Producer Beth Elise Hawk makes her feature debut as writer/director of this 2020 feature documentary focusing on Dr. Nof Atamina-Ismaeel, the first Muslim Arab to have won Israel’s MasterChef reality-TV series, who founded the A-sham Arabic Film Festival in which Arab and Israeli chefs prepare exotic dishes in collaboration, thereby succeeding where politicians haven’t. In English, Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles, available on DVD ($19.95 retail).
DON’T LOOK DOWN (TLA Releasing): Olivier Ducastel and long-time partner Jacques Martineau wrote and co-directed this intimate drama (originally titled high poles) set within the confines of a Parisian apartment where a group of people have gathered to confront their host, who has wronged each of them in various ways. The ensemble cast is comprised of Geoffrey Couet, Simon Frenay, Francois Nambot, Lawrence Valin, and Manika Auxire (in her feature debut). In French with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.99 retail).
JOSEP (Icarus Films Home Video): Noted animator Aurel’s feature directorial debut is an award-winning animated feature detailing the life of noted animator and social activist Josep Bartoli (1910-’95), and how his experiences in the Spanish civil war influenced both his work and his life. Sergi Lopez provides the voice for Bartoli, and this imaginative, dark drama successfully manages to distill – but not dilute – the historical aspects in its unique format. Well worth a look. In French and Spanish with English subtitles, available on DVD ($26.98 retail). ***
A JOURNAL FOR JORDAN (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Denzel Washington produced and directed this fact-based, PG-13-rated adaptation of Dana Canedy’s non-fiction bestseller, culled from the personal journal of her husband Charles Monroe King (producer Michael B. Jordan ), a sergeant stationed in Iraq who kept a journal for his infant son back home, with Chanté Adams (in her feature debut) playing New York Times editor Canedy, available on DVD ($30.99 retail) and Blu-ray ($34.99 retail), each boasting bonus features.
MONSTER FROM GREEN HELL (The Film Detective/Cinedigm): Of the countless “big bug” sci-fi movies of the ’50s, this 1957 shocker, which marked the feature directorial debut of editor Kenneth G. Crane, stars Jim Davis (decades before his stint on TV’s dallas) as a macho scientist battling giant, mutated wasps in darkest Africa. Loaded with stock footage and marked by some of the most laughable special effects – then or now – this does have its devotees among bad-movie mavens. They’re welcome to it. Both the DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($24.95 retail) include audio commentary, collectible booklet, and more. *
NATIONAL CHAMPIONS (STXFilms/Universal Pictures Home Entertainment): Executive producer Ric Roman Waugh directed this timely, R-rated sports drama starring Stephan James as a Heisman Trophy-winning college quarterback who stuns the nation when he and teammate Alexander Ludwig support a players’ strike on the eve of the NCAA championship game, much to the consternation of beleaguered coach JK Simmons. Timothy Olyphant, Kristin Chenoweth, Tim Blake Nelson, Uzo Aduba, Lil Rey Howery, Andrew Bachelor, Jeffrey Donovan, and David Koechner round out a star-studded supporting cast, available on DVD ($22.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($34.98 retail) , each boasting bonus features.
RONNIE’S (Greenwich Entertainment/Kino Lorber): Writer/co-producer/director Oliver Murray’s award-winning documentary feature explores the life and legacy of Ronnie Scott (1927-’96), a talented saxophonist whose love of jazz led him to open Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, one of the most illustrious venues of its kind, located in the heart of London’s East End, which played host to a stellar line-up of talents including Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Rich, Van Morrison, Chet Baker, Jimi Hendrix, and many others. A tribute to Scott and a celebration of jazz boasting unbelievable vintage footage. A must for music mavens, although Scott’s long battle against depression lends a bittersweet note to the proceedings, available on DVD ($19.95 retail). ***½
SIGHT: THE STORY OF VISION (IndiePix Films): Sir Elton John narrates filmmaker Kris Koenig’s hour-long, self-explanatory documentary that examines the history, science, and technology of vision, and how emerging nations struggle to keep up with the rest of the world in treating patients, available on DVD ($24.95 retail). **½
SILENT NIGHT (RLJE Films): Writer/director Camille Griffith’s award-winning feature debut sees a group of friends reunited at a remote country manor for the holidays while an apocalyptic plague sweeps across England and the world at large. Initially shaky and smug, this well-made black comedy finds its groove at the midway point but ends up boxing itself into a corner. In addition to Sam Renton’s cinematography and Lorne Balfe’s score, a polished ensemble cast includes Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Lucy Punch, Annabelle Wallis, Lily-Rose Depp, Sopé Dirisu, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Rufus Jones, and producer Trudie Styler (in a cameo), but the standout is Roman Griffin Davis as Knightley and Goode’s precocious son, who refuses to go quietly into the night by committing suicide before disaster strikes. Both the DVD ($29.96 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.97 retail) include bonus features. **½
TERROR EYES (Indican Pictures): Writer/director Delaney Bishop’s award-winning debut feature (originally titled Voyeur) follows Lisseth Chavez (in her feature debut), Ayla Kell, and Riker Lynch as they film their journey to the Coachella Music Festival at the Joshua Tree, only to realize they themselves are being filmed by the members of the titular website, which focuses on crime and violence. Heavy on the “found-footage” motif, this is far too tricky for its own good and ultimately rather pointless, although the leads are attractive. The DVD ($24.99 retail) includes behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, and more. *½
THE WHALER BOY (Film Movement): Writer/editor/director Philipp Yuryev’s award-winning debut feature (originally titled Kitoboy) is a coming-of-age parable starring Vladimir Onokhov (in his feature debut) as a young fisherman living in an isolated village on the Bering Straits whose life is irrevocably changed when he changes upon an image of his dream girl in a computer, propelling him on a journey of self-discovery. In Russian with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.95 retail), which includes Chen Yun’s 2020 short film Before the Typhoon Comes (Taifeng lai zhiqian)in Chinese with English subtitles.
(Copyright 2022, Mark Burger)